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My Take: When Bedford Falls Becomes Pottersville
December 24th, 2011
03:00 AM ET

My Take: When Bedford Falls Becomes Pottersville

Editor's note: Larry Alex Taunton is the founder and executive director of the Fixed Point Foundation. This article is adapted from his book “The Grace Effect: How the Power of One Life Can Reverse the Corruption of Unbelief.”

By Larry Alex Taunton, Special to CNN

(CNN) - My favorite Christmas movie is, unquestionably, Frank Capra’s 1946 feel-good flick "It’s a Wonderful Life." Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed play George and Mary Bailey, a happy couple living a life of genteel poverty in the small American town of Bedford Falls.

George is a kind and generous man. He is active in his community and in the war effort. Most importantly, George is all that stands between the town’s mean old man, Mr. Potter, and the demise of all that is good in Bedford Falls.

As financial pressures crowd in on poor George, he begins to question his value to the community. So much so, that he wishes he had never been born. To demonstrate to George the folly of his wish, an angel is sent to give him a glimpse of what Bedford Falls would look like if that wish were granted. In Dickensian fashion, the angel takes him from one scene in that small town to another. The difference is stark. Indeed, Bedford Falls isn’t even Bedford Falls anymore, but a place called Pottersville. The town’s main street is a red-light district, crime is rampant, and life there is coarsened.

When George, in desperation, turns to the angel, seeking an explanation for these drastic changes, the angel says, “Why, George, it’s because you were never born!”

According to a recent poll conducted by The Hill, 69% of voters think America is in decline, and 83% say they are worried about the country’s future. And that has generated a lot of finger-pointing: Republicans blame President Obama; Obama blames Republicans; environmentalists blame industrialization; the “Occupy” people blame everybody who isn’t occupying something - most of us agree that there is a problem, but efforts to identify the source of it are incomplete, misguided or downright evil.

CNN's Belief Blog – all the faith angles to the day's top stories

The problems of human society are the problems of human nature, wrote "Lord of the Flies" author William Golding. Indeed. This was the discovery of the monastics. Seeking to escape the evil of the world, they found instead a doctrine central to Christianity: that evil is innate to us all. History tells us that a given philosophy, creed or religion will either restrain our darker impulses or exacerbate them, but escape them we cannot. Not in this life, anyway.

So what will save us from ourselves and preserve human dignity and life in the societies we create? Democracy? Socialism? Stitching up the ozone?

These days, there is a lot of talk about religion - Christianity in particular - and its role in public life. Whether it is protesting Nativities, the debate over “In God We Trust” as our country’s motto or the controversy surrounding the public faith of Tim Tebow, a national discussion is taking place on what the present and future role of Christianity in America should be. The consensus among the secular elites seems to be that it is a bit like smoking: It is harmful, but if you must do it, do it in the designated areas only. Richard Dawkins, the Oxford scientist and atheist provocateur, calls Christianity a “mental virus” that should be eradicated.

The professor should be more careful in what he wishes for. Like many others, he grossly underestimates the degree to which his own moral and intellectual sensibilities have been informed by the Judeo-Christian worldview.

"It’s a Wonderful Life" is a fitting metaphor for a nation absent Christian belief. Jesus Christ said that his followers were to be like “salt”; that is, a people whose presence is felt for the good that they do. As a man or woman’s evil nature is gentled and restrained by the grace of God, there is a corresponding outward transformation of society. The data bears this out. According to the research of The Barna Group, Christians are the most charitable segment of the population by a substantial margin. Hence, any society that is liberally sprinkled with them has a greater concern for the poor, sick, orphaned and widowed - “the least of these,” as Jesus called them. (This is precisely what Nietzsche, and Hitler after him, hated about Christianity.)

But Christian influence goes well beyond benevolence: Our laws, art, literature and institutions find meaning in a rich Christian heritage. In his new book "Civilization: The West and the Rest," Harvard historian Niall Ferguson argues that the decline of the West can, in part, be attributed to the decline of a robust Christian presence in Western culture. Ferguson’s point is largely an economic one, but the inference that Christianity has served to strengthen the fabric of life in the West as we have known it is unmistakable. T.S. Eliot made a similar observation: “If Christianity goes, the whole of our culture goes.”

That is just another way of saying that the difference between a nation with meaningful Christian influence and a nation without it is the difference between Bedford Falls and Pottersville.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Larry Alex Taunton.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Christianity • Christmas • Church and state

soundoff (3,025 Responses)
  1. me

    No one posting on this thread is going to change anyone's mind anyway. You can't do away with someone else's faith, or instill your faith into others. Personally, I feel that God wants people to be good and doesn't care much about religion, but that's just my two cents.

    December 24, 2011 at 5:14 am |
    • angel

      thats what i was trying to say-thank you!!!! live and let live-accept each other for what we are – human beings-!!!!

      December 24, 2011 at 9:26 am |
    • Beadles

      Me – short, sweet, too-the-point. WELL SAID.

      December 24, 2011 at 11:26 am |
  2. Dogboy

    Hitler hated christians?

    December 24, 2011 at 5:12 am |
    • Jose

      Hitler was a Christian, and killed Jews because of this ....I think....I know you're being sarcastic, but revisionist history will change that really soon, well at least in Kansas and Louisiana if we're not careful ...LOL

      December 24, 2011 at 5:14 am |
    • me

      Jose, Nazism's agenda was ultimately anti-Christian, and few modern-day Nazis are Christian. Most either embrace Norse Paganism or atheism.

      December 24, 2011 at 5:16 am |
    • David

      Hitler wanted to exterminate all the brown ugly subhumans, like Jose.

      December 24, 2011 at 5:18 am |
    • Jose

      THE NEO-NAZIS ARENT CHRISTIAN????!!! WHAT?? what are you smoking??!! That is so absurd, a quick Google can shoot that down....that is so rediculous!!! WOW!!

      December 24, 2011 at 5:22 am |
    • David

      Jose's losing it. Poor brown boy.

      December 24, 2011 at 5:25 am |
    • Jose

      Im pretty fair......ohhhhh you mean brown....like Jesus was....OOOooooo busted.....he was from the middle east....OOOooo does that make you feel bad David...hmmm?? that Jesus was DEFINITELY a "racist term for middle easterner that David would use" HAHAHA so what would Hitler have done there David?? HUH ....LOL!!!

      December 24, 2011 at 5:27 am |
    • David

      I'm an atheist troll, you babbling fool! Jesus was a freaking Jew. The Romans should have made a nice soft change purse from his scrotum. Hard core neo-nazis believe in Norse mythology, not Jewgarbage Christianity.

      December 24, 2011 at 5:31 am |
    • Jose

      Love a good Trollin

      December 24, 2011 at 5:34 am |
    • Dogoy

      "My feelings as a Christian points me to my Lord and Savior as a fighter. It points me to the man who once in loneliness, surrounded by a few followers, recognized these Jews for what they were and summoned men to fight against them and who, God's truth! was greatest not as a sufferer but as a fighter. In boundless love as a Christian and as a man I read through the passage which tells us how the Lord at last rose in His might and seized the scourge to drive out of the Temple the brood of vipers and adders.

      Adolf Hitler, in a speech on 12 April 1922 (Norman H. Baynes, ed. The Speeches of Adolf Hitler, April 1922-August 1939, Vol. 1 of 2, pp. 19-20, Oxford University Press, 1942)

      December 24, 2011 at 10:06 am |
    • Jesus

      Hitler was Catholic. He wanted to exterminate any Catholics that opposed the 3rd Reich (as well as anyone else who offerred opposition). In Dachau, Nuns and Priests were put to death (not a lot percentage-wise) for their opposing Hitler's war policies.

      December 24, 2011 at 11:27 am |
    • Terrie

      @David You and Paul may end up having way more in common that you would ever think. Read about the conversion of
      Saul from Acts 9:1-17

      1 Now [a]Saul, still breathing [b]threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest, 2 and asked for letters from him to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, both men and women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. 3 As he was traveling, it happened that he was approaching Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him; 4 and he fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” 5 And he said, “Who are You, Lord?” And He said, “I am Jesus whom you are persecuting, 6 but get up and enter the city, and it will be told you what you must do.” 7 The men who traveled with him stood speechless, hearing the [c]voice but seeing no one. 8 Saul got up from the ground, and though his eyes were open, he [d]could see nothing; and leading him by the hand, they brought him into Damascus. 9 And he was three days without sight, and neither ate nor drank.
      10 Now there was a disciple at Damascus named Ananias; and the Lord said to him in a vision, “Ananias.” And he said, “Here I am, Lord.” 11 And the Lord said to him, “Get up and go to the street called Straight, and inquire at the house of Judas for a man from Tarsus named Saul, for he is praying, 12 and he has seen [e]in a vision a man named Ananias come in and lay his hands on him, so that he might regain his sight.” 13 But Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much harm he did to Your [f]saints at Jerusalem; 14 and here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on Your name.” 15 But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen [g]instrument of Mine, to bear My name before the Gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel; 16 for I will show him how much he must suffer for My name’s sake.” 17 So Ananias departed and entered the house, and after laying his hands on him said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on the road by which you were coming, has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.”

      December 25, 2011 at 6:17 am |
  3. allenwoll

    DANGER : Plausibility at Work ! ! !

    December 24, 2011 at 5:11 am |
  4. SteveJohnson

    "God made me drop a perfectly thrown touchdown pass!"

    December 24, 2011 at 5:06 am |
    • Jesus

      God has a seat in the Press Box during Bronco games according to their simpleton QB, Tebow.

      December 24, 2011 at 11:29 am |
  5. Derek

    Jesus is real...

    he works at the Taco truck down the street.

    December 24, 2011 at 5:00 am |
  6. Miguel Caron

    I think Athiests have better morals than most Christians I know. After all, we believe that we only have one life and what we do and how we live it are important, compared to almost any kind of Thiest who is only likely to be good because they believe they will be punished eternally afterwards.

    So please, let's have more Athiests in the world – let's have more people being good for the sake of being good and less people only pretending to be good so they don't doggypaddle in a lake of fire.

    December 24, 2011 at 4:58 am |
    • Jim

      Atheists also believe that morality is what they make of it, meaning, it's an individual issue, and thus when an atheist is in power, like all other human beings, they will enforce their morality through power. And, to what can I appeal if I don't like how they exercise that power? Nothing, except more power, because ultimately, power becomes a person's morality. Every single atheistic (or anti-theistic) government has eventually gone down that road.

      So, no thanks.

      December 24, 2011 at 1:08 pm |
    • Kafir

      Jim,

      Rest assured, we got laws and stuff. You know... laws?

      December 25, 2011 at 5:08 am |
    • Jim

      @Kafir – Laws change. Happens all the time.

      December 26, 2011 at 12:29 am |
  7. David

    Why don't you atheists go away and worship mother earth?

    December 24, 2011 at 4:57 am |
    • story55

      That's what Pagans worship. You should educate yourself on different views.

      December 24, 2011 at 4:58 am |
    • MotherEarth

      Well...at least I exist!

      December 24, 2011 at 4:58 am |
    • Jose

      Why dont you go and deny every factual piece of information you ever come across and write some revisionist history...oh wait you already are...LOL!!!

      December 24, 2011 at 5:01 am |
    • Jose

      @ Mother Earth...LOL Bravo!! and further more....at least there is PROOF the earth exsists...OOOOooo LOL!!

      December 24, 2011 at 5:03 am |
    • David

      Jose the Mexican is still here annoying people.

      December 24, 2011 at 5:04 am |
    • Jose

      Dude... be careful ...Jose means Joseph the "father of our lord" LOL....better go say some our fathers ..LOL God you're so ignorant and thats the only thing you will ever have to use against someone who actually thinks for themselves...LOL soooo pathetic!! Mexico....LOL

      December 24, 2011 at 5:10 am |
    • Jose

      P.S. Mexicans are hard working awesome people in my book, thats pretty harsh and you should be ashamed of the racist banter duerino...if you had any brains, you would come up with something of substance to lash back with....oh thats right religion has no facts or good points....sorry i forgot..you should apologize if there are any Mexican Americans online

      December 24, 2011 at 5:12 am |
    • David

      You're ashamed of yourself, arent you, Jose?

      December 24, 2011 at 5:15 am |
    • Jose

      your wife left you for a handsome mexican didnt she david...LOL

      December 24, 2011 at 5:20 am |
  8. frankie

    This is pretty silly stuff. Laughable. How can I take such nonsense and conjecture seriously? Ho hum.

    December 24, 2011 at 4:55 am |
  9. Michael

    Larry:
    What a great story and absolutely the truth......good job!

    December 24, 2011 at 4:55 am |
    • Kafir

      Gotta love sarcasm.

      December 25, 2011 at 5:09 am |
  10. ConanTheSecularian

    Samson's strength was from his Bible. When it was debunked he lost all his strength.

    December 24, 2011 at 4:54 am |
  11. nepawoods

    The Barna Group is about the most biased source for a statistic one could cite, and from their claim that Christians are more charitable (and btw, the Barna Group makes a distinction between who they believe are true Christians ... true "born again Christians" ... and "notional Christians" ... those who believe they're Christians, but aren't really) ... from the Barn Groups claims, he goes on to pain atheists as the heartless "Old Man Potter" type.

    December 24, 2011 at 4:52 am |
  12. HaroldKumar

    DON'T PRAY FOR ME BRO!

    December 24, 2011 at 4:49 am |
  13. Mike

    Christians talk a big game about morality, but their true focus is mysticism.
    Jesus spent a relatively small amount of time on mysticism; most of his advice was about human-to-human relations.
    If someone truly wanted to follow Christ, they too would rarely speak of mysticism, and focus on human-to-human relations.
    Truth is, Christians are just as duplicitous and deceitful as any other pagan or Abrahamic tradition, and just as vain.
    It's all about social control, for which 'morality' is merely a euphemism.

    December 24, 2011 at 4:47 am |
    • Jose

      1- Jesus' name wasnt Jesus 2- He wasnt born in Dec or any time in the winter 3- He was middle eastern...OOOoooo 4- He would hate (well dislike) republicans and their let the poor die if they dont have insurance mentality LOL!!!!

      December 24, 2011 at 4:52 am |
  14. Steven Blancher

    What a sad outlook you have on Humanity. Also the slippery slope you're riding sure makes your post scream "I just got out of high school".

    December 24, 2011 at 4:45 am |
  15. Andrew Scott

    The argument that morality is dependant on religion is specious. There are many intelligent and very moral people who are atheist or agnostic, and in fact it takes stronger belief in being good to maintain it without the perceived promise of some eternal reward of fear of damnation. We are not demons because we don't believe, society will not fall apart because a few more people are not Christian. Christian do not have sole right to decent behaviour, any more than they are excluded from indecent behaviour.

    December 24, 2011 at 4:41 am |
  16. nigel

    the “Occupy” people blame everybody who isn’t occupying something – most of us agree that there is a problem, but efforts to identify the source of it are incomplete, misguided or downright evil.

    No, the occupy people blame rich people that sabotaged the economy. "It is easier to pass a camel through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to ascend unto heaven" I believe your good book says.

    It is quite easy to identify some of the problems. Jobs are outsourced to totalitarian countries that have no problem trashing the environment and shooting union organizers, for example. Nothing incomplete, misguided, or evil about that argument I'm afraid. Arguably it is eminently Christian to give our jobs to those downtrodden folk, but that would undermine your argument that there is something wrong with our society. That can only be cured with faith in JESUS!

    December 24, 2011 at 4:39 am |
  17. Jose

    Watch out what you wish for....like an educated populace, or people who actually question things, or people who arent so ignorant that they think they know something others dont, when in reality its the "others" that did more research and thought constructively and came to the conclusion that to be blind about a million things in order to believe in something is just stupid, or the end to about 90% of ALL WAR AND HATRED around the globe LOL!!!

    December 24, 2011 at 4:39 am |
    • Mark from Middle River

      ...yeah the wars over Oil, Blood Diamonds, and water supplies.... I guess they are in that 10% of Deaths. The Syrians just want to run their own country instead of the same family rule...is that in the 10% also?

      Here is CNN article from 24 hours ago ...

      (CNN) - Eleven people died Thursday in attacks in two separate towns in the northern portion of Mexico's Veracruz state, officials said.

      Seven were killed in an attack on three passenger buses by a group of armed men in the city of Panuco, CNNMexico.com reported, citing a government statement.

      The same group killed four people in the town of El Higo, the government said.

      The buses were on the road between the towns of Tempoal and Panuco near the border of Veracruz and Tamaulipas, the government said. However, a statement from the U.S. consulate general in Matamoros said one of the buses was traveling on Highway 105 between the cities of Panuco and Tempoal.

      The attacks happened early Thursday morning, the consulate said.

      The Tamaulipas state highways have previously been the scene of assaults on bus passengers, according to CNNMexico.com.

      The Mexican government has reported that the attacks are due to acts of extortion on bus lines and the struggle between organized crime groups. According to testimony of alleged perpetrators, the attacks are committed to prevent rival groups from entering their territories, the web site said.

      ....With all these killings for money and control of both illegal and legal resources.... do you really want to still hold on to that "...about 90% of ALL WAR AND HATRED around the globe" 🙂

      December 24, 2011 at 4:52 am |
    • Jose

      N@zis, Inquiisition,Native American genocide, just to name a few...watcha got?? LOL

      December 24, 2011 at 5:05 am |
  18. DEAN

    LARRY, YOU SHOULD HAVE ANOTHER GO AT IT. BASED ON COMMENTS HERE, YOU HAVE FAILED MISERABLY.

    December 24, 2011 at 4:37 am |
  19. David

    Here we go again! The atheists are crawling out of the woodwork to vent on the CNN Belief Blog. How does eternal damnation sound to you, LOOSERS!

    December 24, 2011 at 4:33 am |
    • Jose

      I know we're all going to that evil place with fire and brimstone that doesn't exist.... I mean, to think we actually reason and peice things together and come up with conclusions instead of just believing something that hasnt been proven and is a relic of the bronze age....yeah what idiot loosers LOL!!! Pfffttt....read a book....and yes including the one you lie and say you read....

      December 24, 2011 at 4:42 am |
    • Mom of Three

      About as good as spelling lessons apparently appealed to you.

      December 24, 2011 at 4:42 am |
    • Jose

      Im typing like 85 words per minute on a blog....but spoken (typed) like a know nothing religious nutbag...LOL shoot down the one thing you can ....not facts....or ...history....or ...science....or reason.....or ...well anything else...LOL

      December 24, 2011 at 4:45 am |
    • David

      Mother of three out-of-wedlock brats!

      December 24, 2011 at 4:49 am |
    • nigel

      An eternity without these sorts of comments sounds pretty good. Very peaceful.

      December 24, 2011 at 4:49 am |
    • David

      Where's your green card, Jose?

      December 24, 2011 at 4:53 am |
    • Mirosal

      What's the matter david? Are you mad because MotherOfThree is able to "get some", while you're still living in your parent's basement trying to hide your Playboy subscription when she cleans your room? I'd bet that you have a Justin Beiber poster on your wall!!!

      December 24, 2011 at 4:54 am |
    • Jose

      Im a spaniard you hillbilly and we brought christianity to this continent ....unfortunately. The funny thing is we Europeans read books and we have come out of the bronze age mentality so go chew some skoal LOL!!!

      December 24, 2011 at 4:56 am |
    • Joey

      Jose, I believe Mom of Three was referring to David, and the fact he spelled "losers" as "loosers." But way to jump all over her, man. 😛 Just prove the Christians right, that those that aren't are, in fact, losers.

      December 24, 2011 at 5:01 am |
    • Jose

      oh true....well another good quality about non-christians....we admit when we're wrong...LOL!!! but the funny thing is that you made my point even more ...LOL!!!!!!!! Oh thats too good...read it again dude ...its great...LOL

      December 24, 2011 at 5:07 am |
    • Joey

      Jose, how did I prove your point even more? I'm not a Christian. So, please explain.

      December 24, 2011 at 5:10 am |
    • Right

      @Jose: I"m posting like seven comments that all contain at least one LOL... But believe me, I know what I'm talking about.

      December 24, 2011 at 5:11 am |
    • Jose

      I am thoroughly amused and wish you to know that....LOL x100,000,000 this is better than Netflix!!

      December 24, 2011 at 5:16 am |
    • Jose

      OMG...btw "Right" that response fits right in with what i said......try countering my point...oh wait...thats what i was talking about ...you cant...LOL LOL LOL LOL

      December 24, 2011 at 5:18 am |
    • Joey

      Ah well. Jose may not be a Christian, but he is definitely one of the loosers (sic) that David was talking about. On that note, it's bedtime.

      Night all!

      December 24, 2011 at 5:20 am |
    • Tina J.

      Look at these comments, it's a cryin' shame. It's true all we do is fight...because we're human...because we all have a little bit of evil in us. You people would rather sling racist stereotypical aphorisms at each other just to have something to say instead of reading the story, shrugging your shoulders, saying "well live and let live" and moving on about your day. Is this how you carry on discourse in real life. Do you stop people on the street and tell them exactly how you feel about them? Hasn't anyone ever told you to think before you speak? The same goes for the internet. All the vitriol you spew (on the right AND the left) will come back to you. I try so hard to have faith in humanity but the best thing to happen to this planet would be a giant meteor plummeting to earth and sending us all to our end...wherever that may be. So go ahead now really let me have it. Make some snide comment about my name or a word I've misspelled or what you perceive are my leanings to far to the left or right or that I'm a hypocrite.

      December 24, 2011 at 5:26 am |
    • Jose

      Ill fight until reason, facts and critical thinking outweigh fairy tales and drag everyone into the 21st century kicking and screaming for the good of humanity if it takes every ounce of marrow in my body....

      December 24, 2011 at 5:32 am |
    • Mom of Three

      Nope, David. All three born in wedlock, all with the same man. And, unlike or Christian forebears, we are the first generation to do so in three. Furthermore, we get compliments from people of all faiths on how kind, compassionate and well-behaved our children are. So they are not brats. So, please, try again.

      December 24, 2011 at 5:45 am |
    • Mom of Three

      Mirosal: Love your comment! 🙂

      December 24, 2011 at 5:47 am |
  20. story55

    Also – a lot of this gentleman's views look back at previous eras and quotations to support his belief. We perhaps needed firm religious structures in those times. As we evolve, however, our morality will come from a spiritual and scientific awareness that all life exists as a singular whole. The idea of destroying another life will be incomprehensible because we will experience that life as our own, not because we worship a guru. That's what Jesus and other spiritual masters taught to primitive peoples not capable of grasping that message.

    December 24, 2011 at 4:32 am |
    • KoConne

      "The idea of destroying another life will be incomprehensible because we will experience that life as our own, not because we worship a guru. That's what Jesus and other spiritual masters taught to primitive peoples not capable of grasping that message."

      The machine gun was suppose to be such a horrible weapon that there weren't going to be anymore wars. I've never heard of "Primitive People" using mustard gas on each other. Maybe they know something the enlightened Christians don't.

      December 24, 2011 at 4:41 am |
    • Mirosal

      Let's not forget nature's building block ... the atom ... funny things happen when you split one of them

      December 24, 2011 at 4:56 am |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.